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AN INTRODUCTION TO

Static Pressure
Understanding and properly measuring static pressure can provide clues as to why
a system is not performing efficiently to quickly get HVAC units healthy again.
B Y D AV I D R I C H A R D S O N
Images courtesy of the author.

M

easuring static pressure is a
quick test that can help you
evaluate an existing duct system and its installation conditions.
Across the country this very day,
equipment is unknowingly installed
on drastically undersized duct systems that hinder them from operating to their full potential.
By properly utilizing static pressure testing, you can uncover problems associated with this type of
installation that are invisible to
your competition. You will find that
once you begin to measure static
pressure that there are more messed
up duct systems than you will ever
be able to correct. Consider how
many of your service agreements
include the duct system.

Static pressure 101

If you see duct pressures that exceed 0.10 in. wc, rest assured there is a restriction
somewhere on that side of the duct system.

Static pressure is the amount of pressure a fan has to push
and pull against to move air through a duct system. Static
pressure is exerted equally on all sides of a duct system. This
pressure is similar to that found by blowing up a balloon.
When measuring static pressure, the unit of measurement
used is inches of water column, which is often shown as an
abbreviation such as “in. wc,” “in. wg” or “in. H2O.”
One key to interpreting and diagnosing static pressure
is to first understand how pressures change throughout an
HVAC system. Pressure on the supply side of the duct system
will be highest at the discharge of the fan in the equipment.
The lowest pressure on the supply side of the duct system is
usually found past the supply register as air enters a room.
Pressure on the return side of the duct system will be highest
at the inlet of the fan in the equipment. The lowest pressure
on the return side of the duct system is usually found right
before air enters the return grille.
12 RSES Journal NOVEMBER 2014

An instrument used to measure pressure is called a “manometer.” The most common manometer is a Magnehelic
gauge. The 0–1-in. wc Magnehelic gauge works perfect for
most testing, including residential and most light-commercial testing. The top port of this gauge measures positive
pressure while the bottom port measures negative pressure.
Another style of manometer is a digital manometer. For static pressure testing, make sure the manometer
is equipped with two pressure ports. Digital manometers
should have a range from 0 in. to 5 in. and display pressure
to 1/100 of an inch.
To complete the measurement of static pressure, you
will need to have static pressure tips and tubing for making
connections to the manometer. One manufacturer’s static
pressure tip is used to cancel out any effects of total pressure and velocity pressure on the manometer resulting in
inaccurate pressure readings. You will also need 3/16- in.
w w w. r s e s j o u r n a l . co m

By measuring the pressure drop over the air filter. think about how the equipment comes from the factory as-shipped in the box. wc to find the pressure drop over the filter at 0. the coil and filter are excluded from the pressure drop of the equipment.11 in. 4. Make sure you know what is behind your test location to prevent any unnecessary headaches. so disregard the + and just add the two static pressure values together. This also helps you avoid the dreaded hissing sound made from a refrigerant line or coil that has been hit. r s e s j o u r n a l . Determine total external static pressure and system pressure drops. This pressure can also be used with manufacturer’s fan performance data to approximate the amount of air the air handling equipment is moving. In step 4.20 in.31 in.” To apply this term. wc from 0. coils and heat exchangers.31 in. System pressure drops The possibility exists for many of the high-efficiency air filters on the market today to degrade the performance of an HVAC system. wc. wc. NOVEMBER 2014 RSES Journal 13 .When drilling test holes in equipment. always use a drill bit sheath or step bit when drilling static pressure test holes in equipment. co m When measuring the total external static pressure of an air handler. With most gas furnace/split A/C systems. and 5. Drill your test holes in the equipment and/or duct system. using a drill bit sheath or step bit will help to avoid damage to electrical components. Say the pressure before the filter measures 0. Testing steps/considerations Static pressure testing normally requires five steps to complete: 1. w w w. they are not mathematical symbols. you will have a pretty good idea as to what is included in the total external static pressure measurement for that piece of airhandling equipment. What is included in the box as it is shipped from the factory? Once you have that answer. Compare your pressure readings to manufacturer’s pressure ratings or look for the component that has the highest pressure drop to identify potential problems. the coil is included in the internal pressure drop specifications of the equipment by the manufacturer. Example: drill a test hole on each side of a filter. Comparing this pressure to the rated fan pressure found on the equipment nameplate can tell you if repairs or modifications are needed to the system. Identify the locations you plan on drilling your test holes. tubing for testing. you can identify if the filter is too restrictive for the application in which it is being used. 3. you will need total external static pressure and system pressure drops. or packaged unit. On a gas furnace. drain pans. wc and the pressure after the filter measures 0. Neoprene tubing is a favorite of many who test static pressure on a regular basis due to how well it handles field abuse. 2.11 in. Per steps 1 and 2. coils and heat exchanges. The “+” and “–” signs represent the type of pressures found in these two locations. To be safe. and measure the pressure in each test hole. you will need to drill test holes into the equipment and duct system in order to measure static pressure. then by subtracting the two pressures to find the pressure difference. The pressure drop of an air filter is found by measuring the pressure on each side of the filter. pressures are typically measured after the air flow exits the filter and before the airflow enters the coil. Subtract 0. These restrictive air filters have the potential to turn a 16-SEER system into a 10-SEER system. Total external static pressure is the total of pressures taken where air enters the equipment—or suction pressure (–)—and where air exits the equipment—or discharge pressure (+). just like a heat exchanger is on a furnace. A concept that helps to understand where to measure total external static pressure is “as shipped. Take the needed static pressure readings. You can verify this in the manufacturer’s engineering data. drain pans. These two pressures are then added together to indicate the total of the two pressure forces that the fan has to push and pull against. This will avoid damage to electrical components.

co m . The side with the highest pressure is typically going to be the side that is the most restricted. and measure the pressure in each test hole. Subtract 0. such as a duct fitting. wc. the fan typically cannot move the required air flow the system needs. If total external static pressure exceeds the rated pressure.Figure 1 Horizontal air-handler static pressure test locations. wc from 0. You can measure the pressure drop over any other system component.30 in. w w w. a grille or suspected restriction in the duct system. Static pressure in air-side diagnostics When using static pressure as a diagnostic tool. and then subtracting the two pressures to find the pressure difference. Example: drill a test hole on each side of the indoor coil. wc and the pressure after the coil measures 0. internal duct liner. so these can be utilized for pressure testing if you know where they are. Say the pressure before the coil 14 RSES Journal NOVEMBER 2014 measures 0. The coil pressure drop is found by measuring the pressure on each side of a coil. You can compare the actual coil pressure drop to the manufacturer’s rated coil pressure drop at the rated air flow to determine if the coil is clean. Fans are rated with a maximum total external static pressure that they should operate against. No more tearing the coil cabinet apart to visually inspect a coil for cleanliness. r s e s j o u r n a l . One of the biggest mysteries with measuring the pressure drop of an indoor coil involves knowing if the pressure drop reading you obtained is acceptable.41 in. it is best to look at pressure readings individually and together. Most equipment manufacturers unintentionally put holes in their equipment. wc.41 in. Looking at readings individually allows you to see where the highest amount of resistance is in the duct system.11 in. How can you determine if the coil you tested is restricted or plugged up? How can you determine if the reading is acceptable and the coil is perfectly clean? The answer to this is the equipment manufacturer’s coil pressure drop tables. Measuring the pressure drop over the indoor coil of an HVAC system is performed in a manner that is similar to measuring the pressure drop of an air filter. wc to find the pressure drop over the coil is 0. This rating is typically found on the equipment’s nameplate data. “ You can compare the actual coil pressure drop to the manufacturer’s rated coil pressure drop at the rated air flow to determine if the coil is clean.11 in. This can help you track down restrictive conditions in the duct system. Many service technicians will not perform this test as they are afraid of the methods involved with obtaining the readings since it involves drilling test holes in the equipment in certain instances.

If measured static pressure is higher than rated static pressure.fieldpiece.national comfortinstitute. this helps to keep it simple. Inform your customers and give them the opportunity to improve the health of their HVAC system.com is full of free technical articles and downloads to help you improve your professionalism and strengthen your company. contact Richardson at davidr@ncihvac. r s e s j o u r n a l .Find CO Sources Fast All New Field Replaceable Sensor Figure 2 Upflow gas-furnace static pressure test locations. Just as high blood pressure is an invisible killer of so many. co m pressure.com or call 800-6337058. measuring. High static pressure. Visit us at AHR Chicago Booth 5366 model SCM4 Test Tools HVACR Pros Trust To learn more visit: www. The most accurate way to diagnose pressure drops is by comparing each pressure drop reading that you take to manufacturer’s rated pressure drops. David Richardson serves the HVAC industry as a Curriculum Developer and Trainer at the National Comfort Institute. When this information is not readily accessible you can look for the component that has the highest pressure drop. high static pressure is the same for HVAC systems. wc. and verifying HVAC and Building Performance. This reading is compared to the equipment’s rated static pressure.10 in. NCI’s website. If you are an HVAC contractor or technician interested in learning more about static pressure. NCI specializes in training focused on improving. If you see duct pressures that are over 0.com Circle Reader Service No. like high blood pressure is not healthy and indicates that immediate improvement is needed. 55 NOVEMBER 2014 RSES Journal 15 . As you begin to test. you can be assured that side of the duct system is restricted somewhere. One of the first tests in air-side diagnostics is to utilize the total external static pressure measurement. think and speak of static pressure like blood w w w. you can see the side of the fan with the highest pressure is usually where the restriction is located. www. the health of the HVAC system is probably not very good. By looking at individual pressure readings.